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Once a nurse, always a nurse: how Kingston University and St George’s is bringing nurses back to the profession

Anne Smith

Kingston University and St George’s, University of London are celebrating a successful scheme to support nurses returning to nursing after a career break. The return to practice (RTP) course refreshes nursing skills so students can rejoin the practice with the latest knowledge.

The course, which reached the finals of both the 2016 and 2017 Student Nursing Times Awards, is aimed at nurses and midwifes who have lapsed registration, from a year to some decades ago.

Anne Smith had a 32 year break before her return to nursing, having originally trained at Barts in 1978, from the age of 18. She left nursing due to changing family circumstances and pursued other work, including child minding.

Then after 30 years had passed and her children had grown up, Anne decided to return to the profession she loved. Her daughter, who also studied nursing, was a great inspiration:

“She would come home and tell me what a great day she had had and what she had learnt,” explained Anne. “I thought to myself – ‘I want to do this.’ Once a nurse, always a nurse.”

Anne initially thought she would have to start again from the beginning. “But I was wrong,” she said. “My daughter did some research and got in touch with Kingston University. She found out about the course and I realised it was achievable.”

The course, which involves 10 or 14 days of study and is followed by a placement for each student in their field of nursing, is proving increasingly popular.

Course leader Rosi Castle said: “With such demand for high-quality nurses – there are 10,000 nursing vacancies in London alone – more and more nurses are looking for ways to restart their careers.”

Anne found the supportive learning environment helped her studies: “Going to Kingston University was very exciting. The people on the course were there for support and encouragement – we were all aiming at the same thing. There was no such thing as a silly question; it was such a nice environment.”

Anne’s placement was at Royal Trinity Hospice in London. “On the second day of my placement I thought: ‘this is where I want to be,’” she said.

After just a few months Anne was offered a role as a staff nurse and took up a permanent role in September 2016.

Many RTP nurses at Royal Trinity Hospice have gone straight onto jobs after their course ended.

“Since joining the return to practice programme two years ago, the hospice has supported eight nurses,” revealed Helen King, Clinical Educator at the hospice. “Of these, six have chosen to stay at the hospice in permanent nursing roles, alleviating a national nursing shortage.”

Helen helped initiate the scheme at the Hospice. “I was a RTP nurse myself,” she said. “When I started in my current role, the Hospice had never employed RTP nurses before – I asked why not. We contacted Kingston University and went from there.”

Anne sees the benefits to patients adding RTP nurses to staff can bring. “I am amazed and in awe of the young men and women in nursing today,” said Anne. “I do feel that with age you get more life experience; I’ve raised and cared for a family of my own. I feel I can empathise more as I get older, and I’ve learned to take a step back.”

Rosi agreed: “RTP nurses have transferrable skills that greatly benefit their return to the profession. For example, Anne is very IT literate from running a business.”

Despite three decades out of the profession, Anne was on familiar ground when she returned. “Basic nursing care has not changed,” said Anne. “Patients still need care and compassion – knowing this gave me confidence. On the second day of my placement I felt comfortable in being able to care for my patients.”

Anne says the biggest change in the role for her is the direct relationship that now exists between nurses and doctors. “Before, we used to avoid the doctors, but now nurses are part of the decision-making,” said Anne. “When assessing a patient, a doctor will ask a nurse ‘what you think?’ This would be unheard of when I first started.”

Anne’s advises anyone thinking of returning to nursing to just take the first step. “I’ve been out of nursing for 30 years, and I’m closer to 60 than 50, but the first step is the scariest.”

“I still get butterflies of nerves and excitement every day – I love my job.”